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India, Sri Lanka to free all fishermen in custody

Chennai: Even as hundreds of fishermen families of Rameswaram and neighbouring fishing hamlets continued their sit-in protest at Thangachimadam on the second day on Wednesday, refusing to receive the body of 20-year-old Brijo allegedly killed in Sri Lankan naval attack and demanding that India crack the whip on Colombo, the two countries sought to scale down tempers by agreeing to free the poaching fishermen held in their custody.

The quick pact hammered out at a hurriedly summoned meeting of senior officials at Colombo would benefit the ten Sri Lankan fishermen arrested by the Indian Coast Guard on Tuesday for allegedly fishing four nautical miles inside the Indian waters off Tamil Nadu coast.

The fishermen from Neduntheevu off Jaffna were caught with their two boats and taken to Karaikal before being handed over to the coastal security police at Nagapattinam, according to a coast guard official.

Informed sources said stray cases of fishermen from neighbouring countries crossing into Indian water--sometimes by intent and most often by accident since it is difficult to precisely judge the maritime border - go mostly ignored by the Indian CG after stiff warning but this Tuesday arrest could be for assuaging the angry demonstrators in Rameswaram.

The protesters, however, did not seem impressed as they insisted on getting firm assurance from the External Affairs Ministry that Sri Lankan Navy would no more open fire at their boats fishing in"our traditional fishing grounds" - which often meant pretty close to the north Lankan shore - and that firm action would be taken against those who killed Brijo.

Over 2,000 demonstrators, including many women and elders, congregated at Thangachimadam insisting that a permanent solution to their problems with the Lankan Navy should be found and till then, India should severe its diplomatic ties with Colombo. The permanent solution, they said, included retrieval of Katchatheevu island.

The Wednesday pact struck in Colombo would lead to Lanka releasing 85 Indian fishermen while India would reciprocate freeing 19 Lankan fishermen, apart from the ten caught Tuesday night."This agreement is being made to defuse the current tensions", a senior official explained.


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